Founded in 1999, the Greater Smyrna-Clayton club once shared space with the National Guard

Many of the volunteers who helped organize the Greater Smyrna-Clayton Boys & Girls Club in 1999 helped celebrate its 20th anniversary Oct. 24 at the club on East Commerce Street in Smyrna.

The ceremony featured the presentation of certificates of appreciation to the steering committee co-chairs Robert Newnam and Skip Rebar, the first board president, Rick Downes; vice president, David Thomas; second vice president, Betty Turner; treasurer, Art Ricker, and the first board members: Alvin Atkinson, Richard Baldwin, Brooks Banta, Ruth Bowers, Wanda Bowers, Rick Burritt, Frank Chandler, Rev. Walter Dixon, Denise and Brian Fletcher, Danny and Jo Ann Fletcher, Rev. James Hawkins, Jeff Hurlock, Rev. Robert Jones, Brooks Keen, Dr. Vicky Marquez, Nelson Mesick, Joyce Nabb, Kevin Patterson, Theresa Pryor, Michael Rolsal, Ron Sayers, Hazel Showell, Rosa Smith, Paul Tebbutt, Debbie Wicks, Isaac Willis, James Woznicki, Arthur Wright and Sharon Wright.

“This group of people wanted to provide a place where kids could go in this community,” said Regina Sidney-Brown, director of the Delaware Afterschool Network. “Tonight, we celebrate why after-school programs matter. I’m a product of a Boys & Girls Club. It was my first summer job when I was 14.”

Downes said the idea for the club started with a visit by the Boys & Girls Club state president to a Smyrna-Clayton Rotary Club meeting. Downes and other Rotary members visited clubs in Milford and Seaford and got the ball rolling for a club in the Smyrna-Clayton area, and the steering committee landed an agreement to share space at what was the National Guard training center.

“A lot of people contributed to make it all happen,” said Downes. “It’s been a lot of work, a lot of clean up and fundraising, and a lot of renovations.”

Through it all, Downes said there’s been one constant: “I’ve always been impressed with the sincerity and dedication of the staff. ‘The Positive Place for Kids’ is not just a slogan. It’s a mission.”

One of the original steering committee members who helped start the club, Debbie Wicks, led Thursday’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Wicks was the superintendent of the Smyrna School District when the club started. She and current school district superintendent Patrik Williams talked about the strong partnership through the years between the school district and the club, including after-school programs.

The ceremony included recognition of Lights on After School, part of a nationwide event celebrating the role of after-school programs in helping children, parents and communities.

Smyrna Mayor Robert Johnson read a town proclamation in tribute to Lights on After School Day, detailing how after-school programs build strong leaders and strong communities, and he read a town proclamation honoring the Greater Smyrna-Clayton Boys & Girls Club for 20 years of helping children and the town.

“We recognize all the individuals who have made a difference in so many lives,” Johnson said.

After several years of sharing space, the National Guard moved to a new readiness center on Wheatley’s Pond Road, and the building on East Commerce Street was sold to the Town of Smyrna for $1 with the provision that the building be used for a Boys & Girls Club. The site has been renovated to include an indoor basketball court, computer facilities, a game room, classrooms, a kitchen, updated bathrooms and an outdoor playground.

The club serves about 575 children and teens through a variety of activities at the club and outreach programs in the community and provided an estimated 10,000 meals over the past year.

Testimonials of members and staff

Former member and Youth of the Year Jelisa Dixon, who’s now a registered nurse, told how the Greater Smyrna-Clayton Boy & Girls Club helped her with her school work, especially with computer access, and with leadership skills.

“In eighth grade in one of my classes, I got the highest grade on a project and the teacher asked where I had learned about it, and I said ‘at the Boys & Girls Club,’” Dixon said.

She volunteered to help younger children and later was hired for her first paying job at the club.

“Now that I’m a college graduate and an RN, I want to thank everyone at the Boys & Girls Club for what they did for me,” Dixon said.

Wicks also talked about a famous former club member, WNBA player Betnijay Laney who led the Smyrna High girls basketball team to a runner-up finish in the state basketball tournament and then played at Rutgers University before her professional career.

The president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, John Wellons, congratulated the board and staff of the Greater Smyrna-Clayton Club, past and present.

“You’re a dedicated group of people who care about children,” said Wellons. “We’re thankful for what you’ve done here and appreciate all that you continue to do.”

Trisha Moses, former club executive director and now vice president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, thanked everyone who started the club and the board and staff for their hard work.

“It’s been successful because of you and your commitment,” Moses said. “We’re able to deliver services to kids on a daily basis because of you.”

Current club executive director Eusheka Bartley said she considers the members of the club to be her own children.

“I really love educating them and helping them,” Bartley said.

She thanked the parents, board members and community leaders for “making sure these children are cared for and loved and for providing a safe place where they can spend their time, learn and have fun.”